President Barack Obama’s speech in Egypt next week will need to balance strategic and diplomatic considerations with a clear commitment to democratic reform in the region, writes J. Scott Carpenter. But Obama is likely, perhaps even compelled, to prioritize economic and security concerns over democracy promotion, writes William Galston, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. ”
The U.S. needs to support relatively moderate states like Egypt and Jordan to counter rejectionist forces like Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, says Carpenter, director of the Washington Institute’s Project Fikra. But the speech must also must include “a challenge to Egypt and governments across the region to create more open, democratic, and therefore, resilient societies.”
“Insisting that Middle East governments do more to protect their citizens’ civil and political rights will put him squarely on the side of the people,” he suggests.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday insisted that “it is in Egypt’s interest to move more toward democracy and to exhibit more respect for human rights.”
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit met Clinton earlier this week and he welcomed the shift in rhetoric, describing the new administration as “very much different” from its predecessor on issues like democracy and human rights.
But, meeting with Egyptian democracy activists, Clinton emphasized the U.S. commitment to promoting democracy in the region. “We’ve spent, as you know, many billions of dollars over the last years promoting NGOs, promoting democracy, good governance, rule of law,” she said.
She placed particular stress on economic opportunity, out of which “comes confidence, comes a recognition that people can chart their own future.”
Galston believes economic and security considerations will come first in Obama’s address. “Given the gravity and urgency of the problems in these areas, the administration’s stance is understandable, perhaps even inevitable,” he contends.
He suggests looking for a few important hints at what kind of democracy strategy might emerge:
- Consistent with the overall case he presents, will the president discuss democracy and human rights during his formal address to the Muslim world?
- Will he also bring up these concerns during private meetings with President Mubarak, and if he does, will his entourage take steps to publicize this fact?
- Will he meet with well-known dissidents, opposition leaders such as Ayman Nour, and representatives of beleaguered independent groups?
- Will he insist on the right of the United States to fund whatever Egyptian groups it chooses, whether or not the Egyptian government has officially recognized and certified them?
If President Obama does these things, his administration can credibly claim to have put in place a democracy and human rights strategy that may well prove more effective than his predecessor’s blunt confrontation with the status quo.
The U.S. was criticized this week for supporting Egyptian liberal democrats at the expense of other opposition forces. “By favouring liberals, America is marginalising the majority within the Egyptian opposition,” claimed Sara Khorshid.
She cites Brookings fellow Khalil Al-Anani complaint about the absence of “any real liberal solidarity with the opposition movements … such as Kefaya, the April 6 Youth Movement or the workers’ unions.” Egyptian liberals, he said, “refuse to join the opposition ranks because they consider them to be politically immature populist movements.”